In 2007 I took a good bit of time to write about Ty Cobb and how I believed that imagery analysis showed the Georgia Peach used bats longer than the 34 ½ inches recorded in his Hillerich & Bradsby records. Don’t get me wrong, I am big fan of archived production information, but I have also shown were this information has gaps or is incomplete. This is far cry from saying the information is wrong, but in my opinion, it has stifled more research than it has fostered.
Not long ago, Justin Brooks informed me that various issues of The Sporting Life, spanning the period of 1896-1917, had been placed on line. Since I was working on my Kren bat research, I decided to search this source. Unfortunately I came up with nothing related to the work of Joseph Kren. This being the case, I decided to look for other things of interest. Last year, MEARS featured a couple of great articles on corked gripped bats:
Ruth, Kork, and an Overview of 40K bats in the Major Leagues…by Troy R. Kinunen
40-K Kork Grip Bats by Justin Brooks 4-8-2008
With Louisville Slugger being issued a patent for this grip in September of 1914, I figured some information or players comments might be available about these bits of lesser seen lumber during the period listed for the Sporting Life. The 20 December 1913 edition of the Sporting Life showed a small column with the headline “TY COBB INVENTOR: The Detroit Star Has Evolved a Cork Handle For The Bat.” The article is here for your own reading and reference. Cobb was obviously not an inventor, but rather a ball player. A ball player obsessed with being the best in the game and always looking for an edge. I don’t think it a stretch to imagine that he used a cork gripped bat at some point based on this information.
I knew from previous research on this same period that Sam Crawford had commented that he did not feel a cork grip would be of much benefit, other than helping to reduce the sting to a player’s hand. What this suggests is that players were using cork gripped bats. It is interesting to note that Cobb and Crawford were teammates with the Tigers at this time and not the best of friends. Could it have been that Crawford’s comments were directing at Cobb?
This information about Cobb’s involvement in developing corked gripped bats does not mean that every Ty Cobb Hillerich and Bradsby 40K is a Cobb gamer, but it does highlight once again that player production information may not contain everything we are looking for with respect to a players ordering and use preferences.
As a collector myself, I know it is always comforting to find production information that supports a players use of a particular bat that I have, but it also does not stop me from picking up bats that I feel make sense given the totality of the circumstances. Last year I started a collection of bats from the 1919 Cincinnati Reds and the most expensive bat of the bunch was an Edd Roush H&B Model. Recently I picked up a 1920s Roush H&B 40K for about 25% of that purchase price from a nationally known dealer.
Why did I go after this bat? This bat measures at 33” and weighs 41 ounces with the top layer of grain missing from the back of the barrel. Production information for Edd Roush indicates bats at 33” and weights from 45-48 ounces. With the top layer of grain missing and with what I demonstrated with respect to bat weight loss as articulated in my August 7th 2006 article “What Do We Really Know About Baseball Bats?”, I felt this bat had everything I should be looking for in a dimensional sense with respect to a cork gripped bat that may have been ordered and used by Edd Roush. Another factor in shaping my decision was the lack on “inch marks” on the knob which are typically indicative of retail or “store model” offerings. The knob also displays strong rasp marks indicative of the bat being hand turned as well.
Since we’re on the subject of Cork Gripped bats, player order records and Cincinnati Reds players, please know these observations are not confined to the early part of the 20th Century. Consider Ken Griffey Sr, and what we know about him in the 1970s.
Griffey Sr’s personal order sheets show annotations for cork bats on:
3-15-73: Ordered (Cork) (F.B.)
4-16-73: “ (F.B.)
4-3-73: R155, “, Cork, 35”, 35oz, A6
One thing you won’t find in Griffey Sr records is an order for All Star bats in 1977. However we know they were produced and at least used by him around the batting cage by way of the image shown here.
I have to admit my recent Roush 40K purchase is not one I would have made a couple of years ago based on what was then said and thought of about cork gripped bats. This was almost entirely based on production information alone. I am sure that now with this contemporary information on Cobb and cork handle bats, there are some who are a bit happier that they made the purchases they did. I know the opposite is true for those collectors who told me they had long ago sold Cobb bats that were 36” or greater in length and wished I had published my piece on Cobb bat lengths and imagery analysis back in the day.
I encourage all collectors to read what has been written, do some independent research of your own, and use this to shape your collecting and purchase decisions. I think you will find you will make better purchases and enjoy the items you acquire even more. Use production information/shipping records for what they are, a data point or series of data points and nothing more.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com